Summary: Have you ever had anyone tell you they are praying for you? Jesus is praying for you asking protection and sanctification.
7 Easter B John 17:6-19 1 June 2003
Rev. Roger N. Haugen
Have you ever had someone tell you they are praying for you? Likely we all have had people pray for us, but it is different when someone tells you they are praying for you. It might happen when you are going through a difficult time with health or family. It can make you feel uneasy or a bit vulnerable. But there is also a feeling of well being that flows over you because you know you are not alone, that someone cares for you and you know that God is there in the midst of it all.
Sometime it comes unexpected. I have had emails telling me that someone thought of me and is praying for me. It gives me a lift even if there is nothing particularly weighing on me at the time. Yet sometimes the words come when I feel particularly weighed down and need those prayers especially but did know how or hadn’t thought to ask for prayer.
The story is told of a person driving past a church on a busy street in a city. On the sign was the simple message, “Pray for Ellen Smith”, or whatever her name was. The driver didn’t know Mrs. Smith, they didn’t know the source of her concern but he said he found himself thinking about Mrs. Smith at different times during the day, imagining how old she was, what her concern might have been and during the whole time lifting her up in prayer. I suspect he was not alone.
I visited a senior member of our congregation some years ago who felt bad that she was no longer able to contribute her energy to the work of the congregation as she had for so many years. I asked her to undertake a very important ministry in the congregation, I asked her to take out her directory each day and look at the pictures and pray for the people. She may not know if they had a particular concern, and that wasn’t important. She would find herself imagining the kids at school, the parents about their work. Some were widows, some whose spouse was in the picture but had died. Her heart would go out to each of them as she lifted up their situations in prayer. I knew she was praying for me as well and I knew I was not alone.
Sometimes that prayer happens in our presence. To hear someone pray for you after talking about particular health or personal concerns has such power because those concerns are brought concretely into the presence of God and we feel healing and release. Offering prayers in the hospital or prayers around the time of death is one of the wonderful opportunities that I have been given in my daily work. We all have this opportunity for blessing. When someone comes to mind, pray for them, it might just be what they need at that time and we don’t know it.
The story is told of a Lutheran Seminary professor in the U.S. whose son was killed in a violent way. He found it impossible to pray and went about his teaching and his work feeling empty and without anything to give. Sharing his pain with a colleague, he revealed his apparent loss of faith and inability to pray. His friend told him, “We will pray for you until you can pray for yourself again.” As his healing took place, he was not abandoned and eventually he was able to pray again.
As parents we remember the prayers we murmured when we sent our children off to school that first day. It was a prayer for safety in a rough old world. We continue to say those prayers as they enter each new stage of life, ready to stride into the unknown. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, find themselves with such prayers on their lips at the time of graduation, every time a new seemingly perilous journey begins. We want safety of person but also safety of spirit in a world we know can be rough and unforgiving.
In today’s gospel Jesus knows he is about to leave his disciples and they are being sent out into the world to be his disciples. Jesus prays for them, asking for protection; asking that God would “sanctify” them, make them holy, protect their souls. This could be called his last will and testament. With that prayer comes all the wonder of Jesus praying for us. This is the Son of God, this is the one who came to save the world, including us. This is the one who died for us, and he is praying for you and me. Praying for our safety, praying for our souls. This is the one who has power over evil and death itself, this is the one praying for us. Jesus is the one who sends us out to carry on that which was important to him, the release of captives, to bind up the sick, to pray for those in need.